Veteran Interviews by Tom F.
Homeless veterans in Austin have come from all over the state and the country. Our lives have forever bound to the service and sacrifice we gave our country. How we all got here may vary, but we find ourselves Homeless in Austin.
Billy B. is a native of Horse Cave Kentucky that moved to Texas after the deaths of his parents. He had been the caregiver while they all lived in a rental house. His father passed away first in 1999, it was after his mother had to go to an assisted living facility and later died in 2010, that he had to move to Killeen Texas. He lived with an aunt and soon found out the job market there was not very good. He made a choice to come to Austin about May of 2010 to get back on his feet. He found shelter at the ARCH through the VA Homeless program there. He was seeking employment and signed up with the VA supportive office in Caritas. After about 4 weeks he got a HUD VASH voucher (Housing and Urban Development- Veterans Affairs Supportive Housing). They then told him of only one place he could move into, which was the Capital Studio Apartments. The apartment building is located downtown on 11th St. Billy’s job prospects were looking great when he attempted to get a seasonal job at the IRS. It took 3 months for him to go through the process of submitting his application, going through a background check, and waiting to hear from the IRS HR department. 3 months is also the same amount of time that the program at Caritas will cover. With no job Billy was forced to leave his apartment. Billy ended up back at the ARCH about March of 2015. He was able to qualify for the SSVF program (Supportive Services for Veteran Families) through Caritas’. He now lives in an apartment on the northwest side of Austin. Caritas’ supplied him with some basic cookware and a sofa bed. Billy feels the process is too complicated, too rushed and locations are not well thought out. Still with no job he is forced to go downtown in search of food pantries. This is due to the fact that so far he has not found any help in his area for food assistance. He tries to remain optimistic on his job prospects and going forward with this opportunity to get back on his feet.
Gary S. is a native of Brownwood, Texas. He enlisted in 1990 into the Army. He served as a 19 Kilo, which is armored crewman. He was stationed in Iraq during Desert Shield and Desert Storm. He left the service in 1994. He reenlisted in January 2003, and went into the infantry, his training included paratrooper school. He deployed in March of 2003 with the 173rd Airborne Brigade to Iraq. Stayed there for a year and after rotating back to Italy, he changed units and went to Fort Bragg North Carolina. In 2005 deployed back to Iraq with the 82nd Airborne. Stayed there until 2006 and then came home. Was assigned to 1st infantry division at the end of 2006 and deployed to Afghanistan stayed there until the end of 2007. Came home again and left the service. There were no supportive services in Brownwood. He came to Austin because of a house fire in April of this year that caused him to lose everything. He bounced around from motel to motel until finally reaching the ARCH. He has worked with some temporary staffing agencies. From welder to construction clean up. He is currently enrolled in the Rapid Rehousing program there. He has stated his opinion on how the Veterans are treated at the ARCH and the lack of speed on how they are housed. But he admits that there is a lack of speed on housing for everyone there. But he remains positive on getting back on his feet.
Bryan is a native of Wisconsin. He joined the Air Force in 1985 and left in 1996. His job was 09X1, which is crypto maintenance, software and hardware specialist. What brought him to Austin was a contract IT job in February of this year. That lasted until September of this year. He became homeless due to not following the recommended medication for his Bi-polar with bouts of hyper-mania. He spent all his money and lost his hotel accommodations. He lost is contract due to complications with the VA paperwork that was trying to be confirmed by a state office. He currently resides at the ARCH. When asked about how his experience is here in Austin. He replied “Overall being a homeless veteran in Austin is ok. The clinic and programs offered are ok. But I was shocked to see that the VA has no permanent facility just for Veterans. I have experienced being homeless in other cities. Like Philadelphia and New York City. There they have actual facilities just for Veterans. The staff helps with giving out medications. There are rooms for teleconferences for Primary Care meetings that are about lab results and follow up care. And Mental Health appointments that were just check ins. It took a little time to get used to the differences, but here it is ok.”
I am a native of Texas and served in the Army from 1980-1983. My MOS was a 64C, (Wheeled Vehicle Operator), was assigned to a unit in Germany. From there I was stationed at Fort Hood.
My term of service ended there. Returning to civilian life was a challenge. My alcohol and drug problem was an issue. I lived on the streets for a few years. I did seek help and was able to get sober. I moved around the country to a few other states. In 2006 I had moved to Wyoming where I remained until 2010. I returned to Texas in October of that year. I had lost my older sister to cancer, so I decided to move to Austin to be close to my Elderly grandfather. I went to the ARCH within days of my arrival. I stayed there until March of 2013. It was during my stay there that I enrolled into classes at ITT Tech. I was in a program with the VA that helped me to survive and go to school. I lived with roommates, (Craigslist), the last placed I was in the person that was leasing the apartment decided to move. He took mine and the other roommates rent money and didn’t pay the rent. I was forced to return to the ARCH. I have been fortunate to have the VA in my life. I receive medicine and good health care at the clinic here in Austin.
Living at the ARCH has changed from my last time there. The K2 crowd is very disturbing to witness. Even with my history with addiction, I find it very hard to stay positive there. The place has gotten more violent and more chaotic. The VA is helping get my own apartment and I should have one soon.
See also: In My Life In Style, by Erroll Crawford
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